Proper 21

I really enjoy watching videos of artists taking a lump of clay or a blank canvas and turning it into something beyond my imagination.  Often, they will start with something abstract like a basic oval or a few triangles and slowly bring out more and more details of their subject. I’m always surprised when the artist shifts from the general form of the landscape, person, or scene and begins to add, what I would consider, to be frivolous details. They will add a stroke of deep navy to accentuate a shadow or add an indentation which draws the eye to something important.

The painter Bob Ross would often start paintings this way and add detail by detail. By the end of his session there was usually room for what he what sometimes call, “a happy little tree”. That is, he would add in a final bit of detail, often a tree, to the landscape he was painting.

I’ve spent some time this month with the artist of the universe. I have been trying to see the painter’s hand in all that is going on in the world. Sometimes it’s hard to see where God has left a mark, to be honest.

I believe, however, that that is precisely what we are called to do. Today we get a final flurry of the Book of Esther. I wonder if you can spot where God is mentioned in today’s reading? Take a minute to gaze at the text. Where is God? Where is the artist? I’m afraid that was a trick question. This passage does not mention God. God is not mentioned anywhere in the story. The artist’s signature is missing!

This is actually intentional. The story of Esther leaves out an explicit appearance of God on purpose. We the hearers and readers of the story are called to see how God is at work. We are called to examine the trajectory of Esther and Mordechai and see how God could be involved in this. We are invited to see who God favors and prospers and who God winds up going away empty.

This practice, examining your life and looking for God at work in it, is an ancient one. It obviously goes back to the Old Testament but it has formal Christian practitioners as well. Our lives are shot through with God’s presence and action if we take the time to think about it.

There is another half to this puzzle as well. Just because we do not notice the details, that does not mean they are not there. And just because we have not always noticed them, that does not mean there are not details added in by the artist.

I am struck by the apostle’s reaction to folks doing miracles in Jesus’ name outside of their small circle. They respond with hostility rather than joy that God has added “happy little trees” into the world without their notice.

As Christians, we have a choice in how to respond to God’s work outside of ourselves. We can either be weary and jealous of God daring to work in ways beyond our ability to notice or appreciate it or we can be thankful that we have a God so big and wonderful that we will never exhaust the discoveries of God’s good work in our world.

Finally, I wonder if you know that there are times for you to add to this great work of art called creation. You are not called to that initial work of separating the sea from the dry land nor the ground from the heavens. God has taken care of the larger parts. But like an enthusiastic painter, God has called us (we who are made in the image of the maker) to add some details, some “happy little trees” of our own.

James mentions just how we might do that. Each time we pray, sing, repent, or visit we are adding a few extra strokes to the painting. God does not do this because the painting needs our contributions but because God delights in our work like a master painter delights in seeing students grow their craft.

God is at work whether we take the time to notice or not. But we ought to notice for our own soul’s delight! God is working through all things, especially those things we would not expect, to bring about a masterpiece. We need not fear unfamiliar contributors. And finally, God is inviting us into the work of creating and delights when we accept the invitation.

Take some time this week to read Esther and notice the artist at work. Then turn your eye to your own life. I pray that you take some time to notice, delight and add your own “happy little trees” in the week to come. May you know as you are known. May you delight in creation as God delights in you.


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